Knicks 88, Celtics 80: "Pure ulcerated bliss!"

Jim Rogash

They did it.

I've never felt this. A version of myself has watched the Knicks win a playoff series before-- many of them-- but that was different. The last time the Knicks took a series, I was 11 years old and very small and dumb and devoid of life experience. My emotions were little more than binary. I could get very happy and quite sad about the Knicks, but it didn't get more complicated than just that. My range of feeling has widened a bit since then, believe it or not. I'm sure you could measure the difference physiologically. I'm working with a broader hormonal palette than I was in 2000, and I feel like someone just dragged a brush across the whole gamut. That series-- shit, just that game alone-- stirred up a blend of optimism, glee, confidence, worry, panic, guilt, remorse, confusion, relief, love and hate unlike anything I'd ever experienced. I'm feverish.

The game, though. We're not gonna spend much time on this one, but let's walk through the mayhem that just took place. Everyone demanded adjustments, and the Knicks came out looking pretty adjusted. At last, New York was back to building offense from their defense. They rotated brilliantly off the ball to jar basketballs free, push them the other way, and get into their sets quickly. They got a few easy run-out baskets, and when they set up in the halfcourt, they used screens and passed the ball quickly in and out of Carmelo Anthony isolations. When those isos and pick-and-roll plays created open looks, the Knicks capitalized-- Melo a few times, Tyson Chandler a few times at the rim, Iman Shumpert nicely off a weak-side dribble, and ohhhhh my god, Pablo Prigioni. I could kiss Pablo Prigioni. The Celtics made the perilous mistake of sagging off Pablo at the perimeter, and Pablo punished them with flat feet and a placid expression. Pablo's three early threes, coupled with Boston's constant turnovers and timely reversion to missing every single jumper, had New York up 24-10(!) after the first quarter.

The end of that first quarter and duration of the second were pretty weird. Melo got two early fouls and Pablo hung around a little longer than usual on account of his killing folks, so Mike Woodson pushed some buttons he'd never touched, like, ever. We saw lineups with two bigs-- Chandler and Kenyon Martin, then Martin and Marcus Camby(!?)-- and a lot of J.R. Smith handling the ball. It didn't go so well, and by the time Melo returned, things felt uneasy. Several easy opportunities went awry because folks just made brainfarts or other unforced boners. The starters restored some order, though. More picks, more quick decisions by Melo, and only intermittent multi-dribble isolation plays. New York held on despite a weak offensive quarter, mostly because the Celtics finished the half with EIGHT field goals.

The Celtics threatened again in the third by finally making some baskets. It was bound to happen eventually. The Knicks stepped on their throats, though. With Melo again acting mainly as a decoy or relay man, Felton dominated the ball and kept drawing Celtic bigs in switches. He attacked with abandon, creating some open looks for himself, a few more for Chandler, and a couple huge ones for Shumpert. Shump inherited a lot of the quality looks Pablo had been getting earlier and hit three of 'em, pushing the lead up to 20 with those buckets and some paralyzing defense on Paul Pierce.

This next part is already a blur and I don't want to dwell on it for fear of triggering a relapse. The lead got up to...what, 26? Folks were starting to write eulogies. I got a group text from one of my best friends saying something about round 2. Then the Celtics got a bucket. And another. Then the Knicks dribbled off their toes or passed the ball directly to green jerseys on approximately 48 consecutive possessions, allowing Celtics to get back and score easily in transition. At some point the Knicks got in the penalty. Those of us who received the group text started sending death threats. With their seemingly unassailable lead now trimmed to single digits, the Knicks took some time to regroup and returned to the floor with an approach somehow worse than the one that'd initially lost the lead. They looked as tight as ever. We watched Melo and J.R. Smith bring the ball up (why? Felton was out there.), dribble out the ENTIRE clock, then brick pull-up jumpers on several consecutive possessions. It was mind-boggling. I saw a lot of folks call it a prevent offense, and that's accurate. They played only to eat clock, abandoning every tactic that had put them ahead. Pablo stayed glued to the bench. Shump entered only after a few minutes. It was just Melo and J.R. taking turns heaving bad shots and committing worse turnovers. The margin got as narrow as-- what was it, four? Five? I don't care. It was maximally scary. It was like performance art. Mike Woodson's nightmarish masterpiece. I cannot adequately convey the terror.

But fuck, they survived. Melo drew some fouls. Shump came up with a humongous backcourt turnover and coast-to-coast finish. The Celtics missed a few jumpers. Melo stuck one dagger of a three-pointer off the catch after setting a screen (FANCY THAT!), then made a huge block at the other end. Chandler and Felton killed clock with some offensive rebounds. They hung on. It feels great. It feels exceedingly ulcer-y, too, like TogaPhinz, said, but great nonetheless.

There was poetry in the end, if you're into that. The Celtics ended up falling in much the same fashion they used to torment the Knicks-- several periods of torpor, a giant comeback in a flash, and a tumble down the stretch. The whole series had sort of that trajectory. I would have been fine with a good ol' sweep, but I guess it wouldn't be a proper dragon-slaying if the Knicks didn't let the dragon feel some hope first. Fuck you, dragon.

It's done. They're gone. I want to be done myself and do some celebrating, so I'm not going to dig into individual notes for this one. Not many Knicks really shone anyway. Pablo had that great first half. Felton and Melo did a solid job creating, but both shot poorly. Chandler had his best game of the series on both ends, which is encouraging.

Shump, though. This was Shump's game. He terrorized Pierce and Jeff Green with quick feet, long arms, and perfect timing. He turned in and outstanding 6-9 line at the other end, scoring not just from the perimeter but on some genuinely impressive attacking dribbles. He was perfect. I love you, Shump. Tonight belongs to you:

Nj6_medium

That's all I've got. I'm giddy and spent. There's practically no turnaround before the second round begins, but we'll get to the Pacers tomorrow. I want tonight to bask in the joy and relief. I love all of you.

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